I must credit the inspiration for this little essay to a patient of mine who, in diligently working on her own developing meditation practice, has made good use of PM. She happens to live in a lovely mountain bungalow, and she takes understandable pride in the good care of her abode. She’s resonated with the “your mind is your home – take good care of it” theme that I liberally seasoned the book with. Her useful association, paraphrased: “I was thinking about the idea of ‘stewardship’: being a good steward of my home and relating that to how to be a good steward of my mind.”
“Stewardship” strikes me as a useful way to think of mindfulness and its training in meditation practice. The mind does extraordinary things: it operates to receive sensory signals, to react in emotional tone, to store and use memory, and to create, synthesize, and speculate. In one of the two “maps” presented in PM, I frame out the operations of the mind in four functional “operating systems”: survival (OS 1.0), relationship/ emotion (2.0), cognitive/ “thinky” (3.0), and a fourth and evolutionally most novel development. OS 4.0 is the awareness/integrative aspect of mind, mix-mastering signals from not only the other three OS’s but inputs from heart and gut. It speculatively may play a role in our generation of empathy as well as in ascertainment of a deeper connection beyond the self.
“Stewardship” is, then, a useful way to visualize the mission of mindfulness. It’s rooted in the training, via meditation and other mindful practices, of that OS 4.0, integrative aspect of developing mind.
Perhaps straining at the metaphor (think Michael Caine’s Alfred as the faithful steward for Bruce Wayne), I can offer three valuable tasks of any steward, cinematic or mindful.
The capacity of mindfulness has a therapeutic, self-care function. The intention itself is an act of care to one’s own “home” of mind. Sitting in peaceful attending to experience routinely generates some direct calm. (I imagine Alfred: ” ‘ere’s a spot of Double Bergamot for you, sir; and oy’ll take that Kevlah to the dry cleaners, if you please.”)
As we cultivate the practice, meditation training has a diagnostic function, too. It helps us learn blind spots in our reactivity and inputs that cause extra suffering, so we can manage them better in the midst and even in anticipation of. (Alfred: “Oy must say, sir, payin’ so much attention to the Joker has left you forgettin’ the utility bills on Wayne Manor. Shall we consult the accountant?”)
Finally, mindfulness can support an attitude shift and reinforcement toward gratitude, kindness and compassion. Aside from particular practices that focus on those aspirational human qualities as the specific targets for practice, setting a positive tone for the day off the cushion is a fruitful effect of some time on the cushion. (Alfred: “Bless you today, sir, as you protect our fair Gotham from the villains.”)
I apologize for the butchered Cockney, but hope that you get the scene. Mindfulness serves to help us tend better to the “Manor” of mind. We can be our own good stewards of our experience.
Take care, keep on staying safe. GCS
Practical Mindfulness: A Physician’s No-Nonsense Guide to Meditation for Beginners (Mango Media) is available now online and in bookstores.